Singer (1965) explained that authors might hold opposing views, yet “the generally assumed commonality enables one human to grasp another experience through understanding his [her] symbolizations” (Singer, 1965, p. 87). The symbolizations I am exploring could be seen as representations of emotional content that arise within us, the emotions that we experience. How we integrate material that is psychological allows for conceptualizations and personal interpretations to be represented symbolically. In the past I discussed the concept of symbol through the concept of metaphor; a medium through which symbolizations can be expressed. Here then we are looking at our interpretation and understanding of how we can think of addiction; to explore how we have come to understand addiction, and with what constructs we might be limited in understanding of addiction.
When looking at addiction through symbolism we can look at how the addict constructs and engages with a symbolic representation of addiction. There is also the presence of the constructs that come from the person or people the addict engages with. There is then the symbolic representation of self, as well as the other for the addict, and a symbolic representation from the contrasting view. The symbolic representation of addiction can be a discussion of an individual’s emotional understanding towards the experience of addiction. The difficulty then resides in how one is able to grasp the personal significance or meaning of how addiction may be symbolized, or how we might symbolize our emotional understanding.
Singer (1965) stated:
“Belief in the universality of crucial human experiences (no matter how defined) and belief that these experiences and the potential conflicts attending them will inevitably be expressed in symbolic forms capable of being understood by others is the point of no return for contemporary dynamic psychotherapy. It is therefore suggested that consensual validation of the inner state of one person depends upon the other’s freedom to be aware of similar states within himself [herself], and to conceive of himself [herself] as symbolizing them in similar terms” (p. 87).
When we discuss how addiction may be symbolized we are speaking to how as individuals we may hold a representation of what addiction is. Though it is quite plausible that our symbolic construct is based upon history of ourselves and of others. The history, or human experience is then a significant component within the mechanics of an interpretive lens to view from, and from which to be viewed. When considering the symbolic representations of addiction let there be a dualistic understanding rather than a stance of either or. Let the interpretive stance take in the conflict of an opposite. As Singer (1965) states might there be a “freedom to be aware of similar states within himself [herself], and to conceive of himself [herself] as symbolizing them in similar terms” (p. 87).
There can be a great conflict within one’s self – not as the addict, but as the other, the observer. For the addict there might be a conflict of how the addiction is represented as both a positive and negative experiences, and how others have come to perceive addiction. To look at the addiction symbolically we can assume that though the addiction will inevitably destroy if continued, there is a relationship or connection with the addiction that through ritualistic and spiritual engagement will create a false sense of connectedness or meaning of the individual. You can read more on the element of identity:
- A Theory on Identification and the Conformity of an Identity, October 27, 2012
- Isolation and Fantasy: A Fragmentation of Identity, November 3, 2012
Symbolically there is an identity, a relation and belief in existence formed around the addiction. The removal of an addiction might been seen symbolically as a loss of spirituality, of oneself, of purpose and control, of one’s ability to function or survive beyond one’s memories, the loss of social associations which have been presumably upheld by the addiction. When observing such loss we are essentially looking at an empathetic and projective stance towards the other as an addict. The addict’s experience can be seen through many facets and viewed through a variety of interpretive lenses.
“Projection is ever-present in the effort to understand another individual because such an effort always requires placing oneself in his [her] Position and therefore projection plays a prominent and inevitable role in the empathetic process…the term has become associated with the particular defensive operation of ascribing one’s own inner tendencies to another person. This is presumably done to avoid acknowledgement that these tendencies are part of oneself” (Singer, 1965, p. 87-88).
The difficulty then resides in how one is able to grasp the inner meaning of symbols used by the other individual. As we engage with addicts and seek to understand their experience, to allow for a constructive definition within each of ourselves, we too are delving into the symbolism of their addiction. The struggle is bound to what emotional meaning we might throw upon the symbolic definition of the addict’s experience. In our attempts to be empathetic towards addiction, how might we be projecting our shadow upon such a term?
“The understanding of symptoms as expressions of conflicts is the foundation on which the work of the psychological investigator rests…(grasping the meaning of behavior and the inner human situation underlying behavioral manifestations.)… that human beings will inevitable express their inner states symbolically and must do so as long as they live” (Singer, 1965, p. 86).
Singer, E. (1965). Key concepts in psychotherapy. New York, N.Y: Random House, Inc.
© All Rights Reserved
Erik J. Welsh, PhD
– Author of The Addiction Complex